This article on meditation, the fourth in our series, deals with the use of guided meditation for sleep. The use of meditation music, such as that found on YouTube, will also be addressed.
It could be termed one of the great modern mysteries of the body: If sleep is so crucial to human health, why do so many of us find it hard to do?
We want to sleep, we need to sleep, and some of us go to great lengths to try to sleep. And yet sleep deprivation is one of the leading complaints that doctors in the Western world hear from their patients. And this is where guided meditation and meditation music come in.
If you have small children or you’re working against a deadline that requires long hours, the reason for your sleeplessness is obvious. All you probably need to get some sleep is the time to do it! But if you’re dealing with more subtle stress, or can’t pinpoint the reason for your sleeplessness at all, trying to address it can be frustrating.
Exercise may help. So may guided meditation, often accompanied by meditation music, used as part of what is generally referred to as good sleep hygiene. But how does all this work?
First, we should consider briefly the role of exercise in quality sleep. Many of us get far less physical activity into our day than our ancestors did. Physical activity, quite simply, helps to tire the body out, and sends its cues that it needs to sleep. Getting exercise in—finishing at least three hours before bedtime, ideally—can really make a difference. (If you exercise too close to bedtime, your body may be too stimulated to relax.) If you sit all day, look into this—it will be worth your while in every way.
Putting aside exercise, “sleep hygiene” is a more general term that involves the atmosphere in which you attempt to sleep. Do you watch TV in bed, or work on a computer, or stare at your phone? Do you have any rituals designed to relax you and prime your body and mind for sleep? Is your mattress in good shape, and your pillow comfortable? All of these things can affect the signals your body and mind receive regarding sleep—and can make a difference to whether you drift off easily—and stay asleep—or take forever to nod off, and wake up two hours later, alert and restless.
Guided meditation for sleep can be part of establishing a “hygienic” sleep space. Music can be particularly helpful here. Of course, the usual goal of meditation is not to put the practitioner to sleep. The kind of focused mindfulness toward which guided meditation works is aimed at our waking lives. But using guided meditation, and meditation music, to help the body relax and fall asleep is certainly effective—and a good idea!
We usually say that any kind of music can be meditation music—it really does depend on the person who’s meditating. But in the case of meditation music used to encourage sleep, it is quite important to choose music that will help you quiet your mind and relax. YouTube has an excellent selection of different tracks and playlists for this purpose—simply search for “YouTube meditation music”.
You’ll want to experiment a little here. Begin by trying to establish a wind-down ritual. Try to leave aside your computer, tablet, and phone for an hour before your bedtime—staring at that bright screen is not conducive to relaxation and sleep. Read a book or listen to music instead. It’s also worthwhile to see that your bed and surrounding area are neat and clean—a well-made bed with clean sheets, and a room free of clutter, will minimize distraction and help you focus. This is so even if your personal style is a bit messy! Having a set bedtime and wake-up time can also be critical here. It can be hard to adjust to a particular wake-up time, especially if it’s early—but this is a key part of conditioning your body to sleep.
Once you’re in bed, lie on your back and take the time to take ten deep breaths. Full, from-the-gut breaths that fill your belly as well as your chest, and are expelled slowly and fully, can have an amazingly relaxing effect on the body.
After the ten breaths, begin listening to the meditation music you have selected—whether or not you use earbuds is up to you. Keep up the deep breathing practice—slowly and fully in, slowly and fully out. If you have a particular mantra or any other habit associated with your guided meditation practice, go with that.
If you’re feeling particularly tense, maintain your breathing while you do the following. Beginning with your toes and working all the way up to your jaw, tense your muscles, hold it for a count of ten, then release. So—curl your toes tightly, hold for ten, release. Flex your feet to stretch your calves for ten, release. Tense your thighs for ten, release. Continue with every muscle group you can isolate—don’t forget hands and arms—until you’re up to your jaw. This is a classic relaxation exercise often used by actors and other performers, and it really works. Remember to maintain your fully, measured breaths.
Establishing a routing such as the one outlined above, and sticking with it, can help change your sleep patterns in a surprisingly short period of time. Using meditation music, your own practice of guided meditation, and some basic relaxation techniques can give you back control of your body in a way that makes sleep possible.
Try it. It costs nothing but a bit of time—time that can end with you drifting off into a deep, refreshing sleep.